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Jul 23, 2009 03:38 PM

What do YOU consider "empty calories"?

There was a recent thread where the OP was trying to break his cola habit. Someone made the comment that they're "empty calories" which I have no argument with. But it got me to thinking that there are many beloved foods that someone could classify as "EC." If we can start from the premise that most of us probably don't need any more fat, calories, carbs, etc. in our diets (there are exceptions, of course. Our daughter and her husband are VERY serious athletes and when they're climbing mountains they really do need more calories and fat) then I think plenty of foods would qualify for empty/unnecessary/excessive foods. Since I don't like desserts, almost all of those are easy for me to categorize that way. But what about mashed potatoes? I know; I know. Everything in moderation. But if we're honest some people's empty is another's totally necessary --- and shouldn't be given up completely except for medical reasons. Any thoughts on this?
PS: I sure am happy I don't like desserts. That would be a tough one :)

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  1. For me, "empty calories" are calories that neither (a) satisfy my hunger nor (b) add to my enjoyment of the meal. So regular soda is number one on my list, since it's full of sugar and for a non-alcoholic beverage I'm perfectly happy with water, unsweetened ice tea, or the occasional diet soda. I feel the same way about fruit juice - I hardly ever have it, because I much prefer to "spend" those calories on an actual piece of fruit that's going to help fill me up. Also mayonnaise or super creamy salad dressings - it's not that I dislike them, but I also really like sandwiches with just mustard and salad with just a bit of oil and vinegar, so I skip them most of the time. Then there are the gradations - are hot, fresh french fries empty calories? No way. But the bottom layer of a giant pile of fries that has long gone cold and soggy - those I can do without. Which brings me back to your everything in moderation comment.

    7 Replies
    1. re: cookie monster

      I think you summed up my thoughts almost exactly.

      One really big pet peeve of mine that I consider an "empty calorie" is the decorative white cream found on alot of wedding and birthday cakes. Ick.

      1. re: ipsedixit

        I eat so little "sweet" things (by choice), that cake with icing bothers my system. If I eat those kinds of desserts I have to remove or work around the BS. I like a little good icing, but what's in that shit anyway?

      2. re: cookie monster

        cookie_monster also was bang-on with a lot of what I consider to be empty calories also. I try to stay away from fruit juice, but because I have a hard time drinking water plain, I tend to splash a bit of juice into it for flavouring. I know it adds up to calories unneeded, but if it gets me drinking more water...

        I also stay away from mayo on sandwiches, unless it's a necessary component, such as with tuna salad. I also don't butter the bread.

        I use skim-milk instead of 2% or worse, homo, which my hubby loves. But he's got the metabolism of a 10 years old boy, so...

        1. re: KayceeK

          OK, KayceeK. Do you not have Simply Smart or Over the Moon milk? I drink 1 percent of either brand (whichever is on sale) and it tastes just like 2 percent.

          I assume you meant whole milk for "homo," though I giggled to read "homo, which my hubby loves." Not that there's anything wrong with that!!! JUST TEASING. ;)

          1. re: kattyeyes

            We've been drinking nonfat for so many years that 2% tastes like cream to us :)

            1. re: kattyeyes

              HAHA! Definitely NOT a Freudian slip though. :) I will have to check out Over the Moon. Thanks kattyeyes.

          2. re: cookie monster

            cookie monster pretty much hit it - i don't think i could have said it any better. if i'm not going to enjoy eating it, or if it leaves me feeling completely unsatisfied, there's no point. for me, it's not necessarily about entire categories of food...though i *do* think sugary sodas/beverages are empty calories, regardless of who you are and how much you love them. and i think fruit juice is a poor substitute for whole fruit, so unless that's the ONLY way to get someone to add those particular nutrients to their diet, i'd consider it to be a source of empty calories as well.

            there is one other thing i see as a complete waste of calories for ANYONE - those alcoholic drinks with all sorts of mixers and sugars in them. it's one thing if you want to enjoy a nice glass of wine, a nice aged scotch, a good beer, or a martini or margarita made with high-quality liquor. but frozen margaritas, pina coladas, daiquiris, cosmos, and all those crazy high-school mixed drinks (e.g. LI iced tea, sea breeze, sex on the beach, fuzzy navel...)? what's the point if you have to add all that sugar, juice, and flavoring to make it taste good? in those cases, it's not about appreciating the liquor/alcohol, it's about getting drunk. and if that's your goal, there are much more waistline-friendly options.

            i may be more of a health nut than most Chers (or more people, period), but i still think there's room for moderate indulgence. will i have a few bites of a really worthwhile dessert? absolutely. a handful of hot, crispy french fries off the top of the pile? you bet. and no day would be complete for me without at least one piece of dark chocolate.

          3. As the "someone" who made the "empty calories" comment, I thought I'd chime in. BTW, nbermas (the OP trying to break a cola habit) is a woman, so ya know. ;)

            I qualify empty calories as those consumed that offer no nutritional value. Whether the caloric offenders taste good is beside the point. I kicked a lot of empty calories over the past couple of years and don't mind sharing that soda and alcoholic beverages are two huge sources of empty calories--they offer no nutrition, just sugar (or HFCS, in many cases) and/or a buzz. Now, not to be a buzzkill, I like an adult beverage as much as anyone, but recognize it's just empty calories. Also on the sad but true list: chocolate. And I am very much a chocolate lover. So I'm not saying I don't eat/drink these things. I do try to do so in moderation.

            cookie monster, good call on the fruit juice. Those are empty calories to me, too, and I almost never have just a glass of fruit juice (or I cut it with water 'cause it's just too sweet). Exception: grapefruit juice, esp. fresh-squeezed. Isn't that good for me, after all? Even if I make it into a margarita?

            Now, we cross the bridge into "wasted calories"--as in, "I'm not going to waste my calories on...
            - sub-par desserts from the grocery store, or anything made with canned frosting
            - fries that aren't cooked to my liking (cold or soggy as cookie monster mentioned)...though, depending how hungry I am, I have been known to eat them anyway, then regret wasting my calories on something less delicious than it could have been.

            5 Replies
            1. re: kattyeyes

              This should make you feel better about the chocolate. And the findings come from Yale-New Haven, virtual nabes of yours:


              I gotta tell ya that a crummy grocery store cupcake and one from the finest baker in the world are "wasted" as far as I'm concerned. And if I'm going to have a potato chip, I want Wavy Lays.

              PS: I know that she's a she. Just going for the generic.
              PPS: I knew that you would "weigh" in --- hee hee xxx,c

              1. re: c oliver

                Excellent, chocolate is good for me! I did know that, but somehow don't feel like when I'm indulging in fudge that I'm really doing myself any favors (besides that it's just satisfying). I'd say chocolate is fantastic for my mental health!

                Blueberries are loaded with antioxidants and also good for me. Thank you, Ma, for the delicious blueberry scone I enjoyed for mid-morning snack today. Fruit is good for me, even if dressed up in an iced scone. ;) Oatmeal cookies are also good for me even if mine are made with M&Ms.

                I am so never going to bake anything for you. ;) *Especially* now that you're making jokes about my weight! jk, jk!

                1. re: kattyeyes

                  Oh, lil darlin', *I* don't make jokes about other people's weight. One of those glass houses things!!!

              2. re: kattyeyes

                I agree. If it has nutritional value, it's not empty calories. A basket of french fries may not be the wisest place to spend your caloric allotment, but they do have a significant amount of vitamins, minerals, etc. Not so with a cola.

                Even fruit juice is nutritious (although some of the apple and grape juices out there are nearly pure sugar). Gin, on the other hand, is not. Which is why I'm going to go make a gimlet now instead of a dry martini. Vitamin C and all. Cheers!

                1. re: alanbarnes

                  I agree with you, and thus do not agree that the term empty calories is subjective. White sugar has no nutritional value. Brown sugar has nutritional value. White sugar calories are empty. Brown sugar calories are not (though they're not real full either).
                  And most juice - not fruit flavored sugar water, but fruit juice - at least has antioxidants. You've got to process the hell out of most things to get them to be empty calories.

              3. Not really empty, but inecessary calories...............
                A hamburger Bun. I prefer mine on a plate with a knife and fork.
                Oversized rye bread on a good quality deli sandwich. I say the bread should be just big enough to keep my fingers dry when eating that hot pastrami.

                This doesn't mean I don't like bread. Crunch toast is one of my favorite things in the world. 5 days a week, i have a well toasted roll or bagel w/ margarine and black coffee for breakfast. Weekends, I add eggs, etc.

                14 Replies
                  1. re: c oliver

                    No offense to bagelman, but you can add margarine to my list of wasted/empty calories. Give me butter or give me, well, cream cheese! ;)

                    1. re: kattyeyes

                      Bacon grease. Never really understood why it didn't catch on as a topping for toast. ;-)

                      1. re: alanbarnes

                        What an excellent idea, Alan. Bob's leaving for Oregon tomorrow (supposed to be 104 for his golf tournament on Sat.); maybe we'll have *bacon butter* on our NY bagel in the a.m. Bon voyage, Bob.

                        1. re: alanbarnes

                          Never had bacon grease on toast, but as kids we always dipped the crust of rye bread in the chickem drippings, or spread chicken fat on bread with meat meals (NO DAIRY ALLOWED)

                          1. re: alanbarnes

                            Alan has enlightened me on the many uses of bacon grease. I like it slathered on a hunk of bread or in place of butter when making a grilled cheese.

                            Alan, just this morning I cooked an egg using your bacon grease method. Perfect! It's fair to say I'm a convert.

                            1. re: alanbarnes

                              Point of clarification: the notion of putting bacon grease on toast was not supposed to be serious. On the other hand, if somebody tries it and it's delicious, I claim full credit.

                              1. re: alanbarnes

                                You can clarify bacon greae like butter?

                                1. re: alanbarnes

                                  How delicious is bacon grease on butter? I might want to try it.

                                  1. re: alanbarnes

                                    A traditional part of a British breakfast is fried bread - just a slice of bread fried in the bacon fat.
                                    Toast and dripping (beef) was something I was brought up with - cheap calories and part of a large family with no money.

                                    1. re: alanbarnes

                                      I fry my bread in the bacon grease. This is very popular in the UK. One of my favourite breakfast items.

                                      1. re: theresah

                                        Okay, gonna have to try this now. I promise not to give up your names when my cardiologist gets out the bright lights and thumbscrews.

                                    2. re: alanbarnes

                                      Onions slowly fried in bacon grease until golden brown. Let cool, cream in butter, spread on black bread, and sprinkle with coarse salt. Serve with a glass of fresh buttermilk. Mmmmmmm.......

                                    3. re: kattyeyes

                                      While I like butter for baking and on vegetables, I prefer the taste of Imperial Margarine on toast.
                                      I detest the taste and texture of cream cheese, and only use it for baking

                                2. Fruit juices, regular sodas and basicly any beverage with sugar. Also, most sandwiches have too much bread/bun and I will pick off hunks of bread and discard to save myself the carbs.

                                  Most type 1 diabetics like myself conserve our carbs/calories because too many means more insulin. We especially avoid high-carb beverages. No point in drinking your carbs.

                                  3 Replies
                                  1. re: lynnlato

                                    Smart, disciplined diabetics can teach us all alot. Thanks, ll.

                                    1. re: lynnlato

                                      Yep, I am also insulin dependent and agree with your list. I would add any sauces that contain excessive sweetener, inferior bread products, and most desserts. Fortunately, I do not have much of a sweet tooth and would choose a glass of wine over dessert any time.

                                      1. re: tcamp

                                        I, too, don't have much of a sweet tooth - and it's wine for me also! Besides, a little wine helps lower my BG. :)

                                    2. Most beverages with calories actually - aside form the occasional hot chocolate in winter. I don't care for alcohol to begin with so I don't drink adult beverages. I'd much rather bite into an apple or orange than drink the juice. Most salad dressings are also a waste to me. I much prefer the components to speak for themselves, maybe with a bit of help from a splash of oil and vinegar. I completely agree on desserts, but most of all those that are not homemade!

                                      3 Replies
                                      1. re: enbell

                                        I assume you mean bottled, commercial salad dressings?

                                        1. re: c oliver

                                          Absolutely! Sorry for the confusion :) By the way, how did you fruit dessert and/or salad turn out? Liqueur or no liqueur?

                                          1. re: enbell

                                            No liqueur, champagne vinegar instead and it was SO much better than the booze. Really, really good.